Don’t for­get who Trump is

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­press.co.za

It is a tru­ism that to get the Amer­i­can pub­lic on­side, all a US pres­i­dent has to do is en­gage in a mil­i­tary stunt – jus­ti­fied or other­wise. In the 1980s, Ron­ald Rea­gan ha­rassed Latin Amer­i­can “en­e­mies” and or­dered a dra­matic in­va­sion of the tiny is­land of Gre­nada af­ter a Stal­in­ist coup. Ge­orge Bush se­nior was gifted a war when Sad­dam Hus­sein in­vaded Kuwait in 1991. Dur­ing his term, Bill Clin­ton had the op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­vene in the Balkan and So­mali con­flicts. The Septem­ber 11 2001 tragedy en­abled Ge­orge Bush ju­nior to boost his flag­ging pop­u­lar­ity by launch­ing a war on the Tal­iban in Afghanistan, which con­trib­uted to his un­de­served re-elec­tion in 2004. He also man­u­fac­tured one of the big­gest lies in mod­ern po­lit­i­cal his­tory to jus­tify a war in Iraq.

De­spite mys­te­ri­ously win­ning the No­bel peace prize when he had hardly set­tled into his of­fice, Barack Obama had to show his met­tle with some mil­i­tary for­ays.

Hav­ing ful­filled his promise to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions in Libya were enough to es­tab­lish his cre­den­tials.

But the high­light of his ten­ure was the elim­i­na­tion of Osama bin Laden, the ar­chi­tect of the 9/11 at­tacks and the Amer­i­can pub­lic’s num­ber one en­emy.

Don­ald Trump, Obama’s bright orange suc­ces­sor, chalked up some points this week when – af­ter just a few months in the White House – he got a chance to bark some com­mands. The bomb­ing of a Syr­ian air force base – osten­si­bly in re­sponse to the Bashar al-As­sad regime’s use of chem­i­cal weapons on civil­ians – had many of his crit­ics singing his praises.

Like a kid on a high af­ter win­ning a video game, he fol­lowed that up with a gi­ant bomb in Afghanistan.

In­flu­en­tial CNN pre­sen­ter Fa­reed Zakaria drew scorn when he praised the Syria airstrikes, say­ing: “I think Don­ald Trump be­came pres­i­dent of the US last night. I think this was ac­tu­ally a big mo­ment. For the first time re­ally as pres­i­dent, he talked about in­ter­na­tional norms; in­ter­na­tional rules; about Amer­ica’s role in en­forc­ing jus­tice in the world.”

Many re­minded Zakaria of his fa­mous procla­ma­tion that Trump had risen to the pres­i­dency by “bullsh**ting”.

The CNN man, who should know bet­ter, was ap­par­ently se­duced by Trump’s vac­u­ous postairstrike speech, in which he called on “all civilised na­tions to join us in seek­ing to end the slaugh­ter and blood­shed in Syria, and also to end ter­ror­ism of all kinds and all types”.

“We ask for God’s wis­dom as we face the chal­lenge of our very trou­bled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed. And we hope that, as long as Amer­ica stands for jus­tice, peace and har­mony will, in the end, pre­vail. Good night, and God bless Amer­ica and the en­tire world,” said Trump.

Zakaria was not alone in his opin­ion. Trump found favour among lib­eral me­dia out­lets, the very ones he has ac­cused of dis­sem­i­nat­ing “fake news” and of be­ing “dis­hon­est”. He got sup­port from Democrats, who want him out of the White House as soon as yes­ter­day. An­a­lysts tripped over each other to give ex­pert opin­ions about Trump’s “de­ci­sive­ness” in a con­flict Obama had been re­luc­tant to en­gage in.

“Amer­ica is back” was the nar­ra­tive trot­ted out by those who were go­ing or­gas­mic about the airstrikes, and who had been de­luded by Trump’s tough talk against the “an­i­mal” and “evil” As­sad.

How soon they for­get. It was not that long ago that an oc­cu­pant of the White House used fake in­tel­li­gence to con­vince the pub­lic and the world about the need to go to war. Most of the world didn’t buy it, but the Amer­i­can pub­lic did.

Aided by gullible me­dia, Bush, his cab­i­net and the se­cu­rity estab­lish­ment cre­ated the case for the in­va­sion of Iraq and the re­moval of Sad­dam. Across the ocean, the Bri­tish me­dia ably ques­tioned then prime min­is­ter Tony Blair and called him out on the lie. The Bri­tish pub­lic joined in the scep­ti­cism. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of cit­i­zens took to the streets to op­pose the war. With that war be­ing the most un­pop­u­lar in the na­tion’s his­tory, Blair left of­fice a shamed man. The Iraq war cost the two coun­tries and the world dearly. The ef­fect on the global econ­omy was huge. The re­sul­tant po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity had global ram­i­fi­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the Syr­ian con­flict and a surge in in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism.

Now the Amer­i­can pub­lic is drop­ping its guard again. It is about to give a man who should be se­dated and chained in an out­side shed the right to start a mil­i­tary con­flict. It would be a dif­fer­ent story if Trump gen­uinely cared about the plight of Syr­ian civil­ians, or if there was a sci­en­tific process be­hind his think­ing.

But his ut­ter­ances be­fore and in the days fol­low­ing the strikes show it was an in­stinc­tual de­ci­sion with no strate­gic ba­sis. It achieved its ob­jec­tive of buy­ing him ku­dos and show­ing that he is not Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s pet project. This may en­cour­age him to take things fur­ther. The world should be wor­ried.

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